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Climate change may affect wheat yields

David Ekstrom 09/04/2013 @ 2:33pm

Growing a healthy, high yielding wheat crop takes years to master and requires hard work and commitment. Climate change brings on a series of problems, and a quality drought-resistant variety that is resistant to pests and diseases is essential.

Over a 26-year period, Kansas State University examined wheat variety yield data from performance tests, along with location-specific weather and disease data. The tests were done to quantify the impact of genetic improvement in wheat, disease, and climate change. Through the years of 1985 through 2011, wheat breeding programs boosted average wheat yields by 13 bushels per acre, or 0.51 bushels each year, for a total increase of 26%. A simulation also found that 1.8 degree Fahrenheit in projected mean temperature was found to decrease wheat yields by 10.64 bushels per acre or nearly 21%.

“Kansas wheat producers are challenged by weather, pests, and disease,” said Andrew Barkley, Professor of Agricultural Economics “Fortunately, the Kansas wheat breeding program produces new varieties of wheat that increase yields over time.”

“Given weather trends in recent years, climate change is expected to increase temperatures, and this is likely to lower wheat yields in Kansas,” Barkley said. “Diseases such as fungi and viruses can attack wheat and lower yields. This research quantifies the impact of weather, diseases, and new wheat varieties on yields. So far, genetic improvement has allowed wheat yields to increase significantly over time, but there are challenges ahead to keep up with potential increases in temperature.”

The Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station funded the study; it was the first to quantify all of the impacts of climate change, disease and genetic improvement using state-of-the-art statistical methods. The results expand previous research to identify and quantify the impact of the Kansas wheat-breeding program.

Daily temperature was collected at a specific location of each variety trial, resulting in a location-specific match between variety yield and weather data. This method made the study unique in climate change literature that relies on weather estimate over broad geographical areas.

According to Barkley, we can’t tell what the future holds, but if the average temperature increases, this research helps us understand the potential impact on wheat production. 

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